The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of police officers seeking broader use of drug sniffing dogs in establishing proper probable cause for a lawful search. The decision overturned the state supreme court, which ruled that the search was not lawful and provided law enforcement officers with a checklist to justify a search involving a drug dog.
The lower court decision said that the search was unlawful because the dog's alert alone, they said, was not enough to establish probable cause. Officers must have probable cause in order to conduct a lawful search, which means that they must believe in good faith that it is more likely than not that a crime is being committed. The lower court said that in order to establish that there was sufficient probable cause for the search, the state has to introduce evidence that speaks to the reliability of the dog's alert that is used as a basis for probable cause.
The Supreme Court disagreed, unanimously giving police broad latitude to base a search primarily on the alert of the drug-sniffing dog. The court's ruling said that like other types of evidence that police use to establish probable cause, the alert of the drug-sniffing dog should be considered along with a "totality of the circumstances."
The decision is controversial because civil liberties and privacy advocates say that some drug-sniffing dogs are not well trained and are inaccurate in their alerts, which means that a dog alert alone may not sufficiently justify a believe that criminal activity is "more likely than not."
Source: Wall Street Journal, "Court Finds Dog's Sniff 'Up to Snuff'" Jess Bravin, Feb. 19, 2013.
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